From April 6, large businesses such as restaurants, take-aways, and cafes are required under new laws to display calorie information on menus and food labels.
In an effort to improve the nation’s health and tackle the obesity crisis, changes to the law approved by Parliament in 2021 now require large food businesses to display calorie information on "menus, online menus, third party apps, food delivery platforms and food labels of non-prepacked food and soft drinks at the point a customer is making their food and drink choices", said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
The new legislation applies to those businesses with more than 250 employees. However, it is something the Government is encouraging smaller businesses to also do.
The types of businesses covered by the requirement include:
- Restaurants, fast food outlets, cafes, pubs and supermarkets
- Home delivery services and third-party apps selling food that is in scope of the legislation
- Cafes and takeaways within larger shops and venues, such as supermarkets, department stores, and entertainment venues such as cinemas
- Specialist food stores, delicatessens, sweet shops and bakeries
- contract catering – for example, for events and canteens, and
- Domestic transport businesses including planes, trains, ferries and other forms of water transport within the UK
In addition to the calories for each food item, menus and labels will also need to include daily recommended calorie needs.
DHSC commented how there are some exemptions to the legislation including food that is only on a menu for 30 days of the year or less and all alcohol drinks above 1.2% ABV.
Obesity Crisis Must Be Tackled
Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity, and four out of ten children leave primary school overweight or obese.
Bridget Turner, director of policy, campaigns and improvement at Diabetes UK, said: "Obesity is the single greatest risk factor for type 2 diabetes and there are an estimated 13.6 million people at increased risk of developing the condition in the UK."
Obesity is also the second biggest cause of cancer across the UK. In 2019/20 there were over one million hospital admissions where obesity was the primary or secondary cause, up 17% on 2018/19 figures. It is also estimated that overweight and obesity related conditions cost the NHS £6.1 billion each year.
"It is crucial that we all have access to the information we need to maintain a healthier weight, and this starts with knowing how calorific our food is," said Public Health Minister Maggie Throup. "We are used to knowing this when we are shopping in the supermarket, but this isn’t the case when we eat out or get a take-away."
Take-Aways and Food On-The-Go Increasingly Popular
A survey by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities on calorie reduction found support for the idea of calorie labelling with around four out of five (79%) of respondents saying they thought menus should include the number of calories in food and drinks.
DHSC said the legislation "aims to ensure people can make more informed, healthier choices" when it comes to eating food out or ordering takeaways. Displaying calorie information may also "encourage businesses to provide lower calorie options for their customers", they said.
However, not everyone is confident that the new legislation will achieve its goals. Henry Dimbleby, a lead non-executive director at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he thought the move was a "small intervention". He said he believed it would "make companies think a bit more carefully about what they put on the menu", however, as far as customers were concerned he thought that "it may mean that they eat slightly lower calories" but doubted it would have much effect for eating out.
On average the portions of food or drink that people eat out or eat as takeaway meals contain twice as many calories as their equivalent bought in a shop. Research also suggests that food people eat outside the home makes up 20-25% of adult calorie intake.
The eating disorder charity Beat said it was "extremely disappointed" at the decision. Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at Beat, warned it could "create a fixation on restricting calories or increase feelings of guilt among those with an eating disorder".
He said: "We know from the people we support that including calories on menus can contribute to harmful eating disorder thoughts and behaviours worsening."
He went on to caution how there is "very limited evidence that the legislation will lead to changed eating habits among the general population".
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